From the day I was old enough to put a 45 onto a phonograph platter and a needle into a record groove, the Everly Brothers have been part of the soundtrack of my life.
Some years before that, the siblings -- who first hit the airwaves on KMA radio in Shenandoah, Iowa, about 70 miles down the road from where I write -- made themselves a linchpin not just of rock 'n' roll, but also of something culturally more expansive. From the Los Angeles Times obituary:
Phil Everly, who with his brother, Don, made up the most revered vocal duo of the rock-music era, their exquisite harmonies profoundly influencing the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Byrds and countless younger-generation rock, folk and country singers, has died. He was 74.
Everly died Friday at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, his wife, Patti Everly, told The Times.
"We are absolutely heartbroken," she said, noting that the disease was the result of a lifetime of cigarette smoking. "He fought long and hard."
During the height of their popularity in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Everly Brothers charted nearly three dozen hits on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, among them "Cathy's Clown," "Wake Up Little Susie," "Bye Bye Love," "When Will I Be Loved" and "All I Have to Do Is Dream." They were among the first 10 performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when it got off the ground in 1986.
"They had that sibling sound," said Linda Ronstadt, who scored one of the biggest hits of her career in 1975 with her recording of "When Will I Be Loved," which Phil Everly wrote. "The information of your DNA is carried in your voice, and you can get a sound [with family] that you never get with someone who's not blood related to you. And they were both such good singers — they were one of the foundations, one of the cornerstones of the new rock 'n' roll sound."
Robert Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, said Friday, "When you talk about harmony singing in the popular music of the postwar period, the first place you start is the Everly Brothers.... You could say they were the vocal link between all the 1950s great doo-wop groups and what would come in the 1960s with the Beach Boys and the Beatles. They showed the Beach Boys and the Beatles how to sing harmony and incorporate that into a pop music form that was irresistible."
Vince Gill, the 20-time Grammy-winning country singer and guitarist, said in an interview with The Times on Friday: "I honestly believe I've spent the last 40 years, on every record I've been part of for somebody else, trying to be an Everly. On every harmony part I've sung, I was trying to make it as seamless as Phil did when he sang with Don. They had an unfair advantage — they were brothers — but I've spent my whole life chasing that beautiful, beautiful blend."
AND WHEN YOU have that kind of impact on those who follow -- when you can transcend mere celebrity and touch something so deep inside so many -- something happens that leaves the word "profound" wildly insufficient as an adjective.
When you connect on that level . . . first with an individual and then another, and another, and another, and then scores upon scores more . . . and then you work your way into the conversation that is culture . . . and then those whose souls you first touched begin to reach out. . . .
THEN you live forever, even though you someday die.
Phil Everly is dead. Long live Phil Everly.